The Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech has long defined Georgia’s startup scene, earning acclaim as one of the nation’s best incubators with its ability to grow early-stage companies. In 2015 alone, ATDC served 1200+ entrepreneurs through 320+ educational and social events, while also mentoring 86 companies through its ATDC Accelerate and ATDC Signature programs.
Over the better part of 3 decades, startups like MindSpring and TransNexus have worked tirelessly within the walls of ATDC, with new stars like Pindrop Security and Partpic making their mark on the national landscape. It’s not by accident. ATDC boasts a 90% rate of success within 5 years following graduation.
Part of ATDC’s recipe for success is its ability to adapt to the ever-changing startup shuffle. Aside from the incubator’s constantly evolving initiatives, including its FinTech Program, Advanced Manufacturing Program, and ATDC Accelerate, its recently transformed physical spaces accommodate modern entrepreneurs’ needs for collaborative environments. Last week, ribbons were cut in celebration of its completed construction. We spoke with Jennifer Bonnett, the Acting General Manager, to find out what ATDC’s 48,000 square-foot facelift brings to the Tech Square magnet as a new chapter in its long-esteemed history.
What do the renovations mean for ATDC as a reflection of its visual out-facing base here in Tech Square?
We have been here for about 12 years, so we are pretty much the anchor tenant of the Centergy Building with the Centergy Building as the anchor of Tech Square.
Our focus is on scaling these startups, so for the last 12 years we’ve been in an environment that was a little bit more corporate – heads down, but cool stuff happening behind closed doors.
What we’ve seen is that the ecosystem over the last decade has become more open and the way people work has changed, so the space wasn’t working as well for us anymore. What we’ve done with the renovations is brighten it up, refresh it – new colors, really bright LED lighting, more open window space letting natural light into the floor, glass panels on the doors so you can see and communicate with companies, but they can still close their doors and work heads down when they need to.
What we were really missing before was a place to create a community for our own community and so now we have a lobby. When I walk through the hall I’m already seeing a class going on in the classroom, and two young entrepreneurs working with a mentor on one of the couches, and another team in the break room huddled around a laptop. It’s what this space was designed for and it’s great to see it used that way. It’s really about dealing with the way people work today, which is much more open and collaborative than it was when the original floor was designed 12 years ago.
ATDC is a keystone both in Tech Square and historically here in Atlanta as a place where startups and the ecosystem are the center point. Can you speak about the incubator’s role over the past 35 years?
ATDC was founded almost 36 years ago and we have over 170 graduates through our program and 90% of those graduates are deemed successful – meaning they were still in business as an ongoing endeavor, gone public, or successfully merged into another company 5 years after graduation.
About $2 billion in investment dollars have come into the state of Georgia, from outside of Georgia, and our 170-plus startup graduates have generated about $12 billion in revenue. So we have a significant economic impact on the state and have been a very large player in startups for 35 years.
We have a statewide mission, so we’re also engaged in Athens, Augusta, and Savannah, and trying to figure out how we move the needle for companies in those areas. I think about how we can best plug companies into assets available here in Atlanta, which has a concentration of assets startups want to tap into. And even when you look across Atlanta and start saying, ‘ok, we are currently running programs in Alpharetta at the ATC and at the Flatiron downtown and programs here in Midtown, how can we leverage the assets we have as a state-funded entity to truly help move the needle for entrepreneurs across Georgia, no matter where they live or work in the state?’
What’s on deck in terms of your growth and development here at ATDC now and in the future?
The main focus for me has been trying to think about how we truly clarify our message. It is a very complex ecosystem and where does ATDC fit in it and what does ATDC excel at? And the truth is, we excel at education. We are part of Georgia Tech, which is one of the best education systems on the planet for engineers and talent, and we need to be one of the best programs for entrepreneurial education on the planet at ATDC. Our ATDC Educate program is all about that, and we excel at it, so it has certainly been a focus of mine over the years.
We are also currently coaching around 92 companies at a very deep, individualized level, which is the most we’ve ever done now historically. We have helped 30-40 companies in the program at any given point in time, so if you look 5-10 years out and say ‘wow, if we can keep the momentum and are able to coach 90-100 companies, we will be at least doubling our impact – more likely quadrupling our impact – and that will radically change the economic development platform here in Georgia.
[Image Sources: Header, Shane Matthews via ATDC; Lower, Kiki Roeder]